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Preview: Julian Williams returns for title defense against Jeison Rosario

“J Rock” is back to make his first 154-pound title defense this Saturday on FOX.

Stephanie Trapp/TGB Promotions
Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

Eight months ago, Julian “J Rock” Williams was set up as a homecoming opponent for WBA and IBF junior middleweight titleholder Jarrett Hurd. Hurd, a native of Accokeek, Maryland, was getting a FOX-televised PBC main event about 40 minutes up the road in Fairfax, Virginia.

Everyone thought Hurd, an unbeaten bruiser at 154 pounds, would win and win handily. Williams, to his credit, talked a perfect game in the lead-up. He was different, he said, than when he was knocked out in the fifth round by Jermall Charlo two and a half years prior. He hadn’t really been seen widely since, though, so for all anyone outside his camp or close to him knew, it was just the right talk.

It wasn’t just talk, and we found that out quickly. Williams put in one of the year’s standout performances, outlasting Hurd in an exciting main event and winning a deserved unanimous decision. It was, briefly, the clubhouse leader for Upset of the Year.

There was talk of Philadelphia’s Williams getting a rematch title defense at home. Hurd wanted another crack at Williams, but it didn’t come to fruition, perhaps mostly thanks to turmoil in Hurd’s camp which led him to a new team.

We can’t ignore that the two are lined up to meet again if all goes well. Williams (27-1-1, 16 KO) returns on Saturday in Philly, headlining again on FOX against Jeison Rosario, while Hurd (23-1, 16 KO) looks to bounce back next Saturday night on Showtime against veteran Francisco Santana.

But those things do have to go well to get there, and Rosario (19-1-1, 13 KO) has first crack at breaking up the potential party.

Jeison Rosario v Nathaniel Gallimore Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images

The 24-year-old Rosario, originally from the Dominican Republic and now based in Miami, hasn’t gotten to this shot easily, and that’s part of why few are going to be picking him to win.

Rosario turned pro in 2013 in Santo Domingo, and fought his first 12 bouts at home in the Dominican before venturing into the United States in 2017, where he was matched against Nathaniel Gallimore on a PBC card in Las Vegas.

The night didn’t go how Rosario wanted, as he was dropped three times in the sixth round, where he was stopped and had his undefeated record taken from him. After a couple tune-ups, he went to a six-round draw with Mark Anthony Hernandez in El Paso, another setback.

But Rosario has come through capably since then, for the most part. He beat Justin DeLoach and previously-undefeated Jamontay Clark in 2018, then went back to Santo Domingo to defeat Juan Carlos Rodriguez to close out that year. In 2019, he fought twice, stopping the aforementioned Hernandez in the ninth round of their rematch in Minneapolis, and then winning a split decision over Jorge Cota on April 20 in California.

Rosario is a fringe contender at this point. When Williams came into his fight with Hurd, he was underestimated but still pretty universally thought to be a top 10 junior middleweight. That’s not the case for Rosario. He’ll be a significant underdog here, and should be. Him beating Williams would probably be a bigger upset than Williams beating Hurd.

Julian Williams v Jarrett Hurd Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

One does have to wonder, though, if “J Rock” might be set up for the banana peel slip in this matchup; for God’s sake, Rosario’s nickname is even “Banana.”

Williams had a ton of emotion going into that fight with Hurd. He felt disrespected, he felt written off, and when he was done getting the biggest victory of his career, that genuine, raw emotion came spilling out in the ring in his post-fight interview.

“They told me I was done, told me I had no chin,” he began, tears in his eyes as he said, “The boxing world, they make it seem like fighters take a loss and can’t come back. I just knew that wasn’t the case. Boxing world, stop condemning fighters when they take a loss.”

Julian is easy to like, easy to root for, and he’s got a polished game that tells you he can be a success for a while longer. At 29, he’s right in his prime, and while he absolutely was written off by some after losing to Charlo, those who remember that fight also remember he was fighting Charlo 50-50 before getting stopped.

Boxing, though, has a long history of fighters who pulled out the big upset only to falter upon a return to the ring. Maybe the hunger that drove them to that great feat was gone, leading to a training camp that didn’t get taken seriously, coming to the ring under-prepared and ripe for the picking.

We just saw it with Andy Ruiz Jr, and while heavyweight is a different animal — for instance, you can moan about eating salmon until everyone gives up and just orders Pizza Hut for you until you come in wildly out of shape to the point that after the fight you complain about lifting your arms to throw a punch being too difficult — it does happen at all weights.

Still, it’s tough to figure it for Williams, a blue collar sort of fighter who has given every impression that he truly appreciates the level he’s reached, and the work he put in that got him there. He doesn’t seem the sort to give that up to party a little more.

On paper, this is a stay-busy fight, a homecoming victory lap sort of matchup for him, but Williams has seen first-hand what “homecoming victory laps” can be if you’re not prepared. Expect “J Rock” to be in top form.

Chris Colbert vs Jezzrel Corrales

Jorge Cota v Jermell Charlo Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images

The co-feature on Saturday is an interesting junior lightweight matchup between unbeaten Brooklyn prospect Chris Colbert and former titleholder Jezzrel Corrales. (Apparently, if you’re wondering, we were all spelling it wrong for years with “Jezreel.”)

This is a good fight because it’s not as if the 28-year-old Corrales (23-3, 9 KO) should be seen as washed or anything, even considering he’s lost two of his last three. Corrales broke through in 2016 when he went to Japan and shocked the boxing world by knocking out Takashi Uchiyama in two rounds to win the WBA 130-pound title, then returned eight months later to successfully defend in a rematch, this time going the full 12 and getting the split decision.

After a defense against Robinson Castellanos in 2017, Corrales missed weight for a defense against Alberto Machado. The fight went on, and Corrales led on all three cards through seven rounds before he was knocked out in the eighth.

Last time we saw the native of San Miguelito, Panama, Corrales was very controversially beaten by split decision against Ladarius Miller in July 2019, a fight that ultimately was decided due to a questionable call by referee Brent Bovell, who has little experience at a higher level and docked Corrales a point in the 10th round after some tussling on the inside, which most referees probably would not have. That point made the difference between a split draw and a split decision win for Miller.

23-year-old Colbert (13-0, 5 KO) has a big personality and a lot of confidence, and he might be a bit better puncher than his record would lead you to believe, too. He fought four times in 2019, the last coming in September when he knocked out Miguel Beltran Jr in the first round.

Colbert has some flashy skills and some obvious gifts, but Corrales is a legitimate step up for him, and Corrales can also be a bit of a spoiler. This is the sort of test that prospects have to pass at some point, and Colbert’s team going for it now indicates their belief in his ability and maturity as a fighter. We’ll see if that belief is rewarded.

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